“There are so many mistakes” said my Russian language partner with a smile, after I had tried, in Russian, to explain the events of my week. You will hear such plainly stated comments when dealing with the Russian mindset. Another came in the form of a question: “Are you a lazy man?”, -perhaps after all; this was why my progress was poor. There is very little in the way of “soft soap” compared to the euphemistic language that some ‘polite’ tutoring may employ in the west. Here, everyone is increasingly considered a “winner” during their education and until the real world outside the ivory tower bites hard.
The ‘weekly monologue’ is a form of practice worth considering by anyone learning a new language and avoids the question: “so what shall we talk about?”. It could equally be a monologue or discussion on any common subject or scenario. You develop skills in “simulation”, in order to increase competence, as bodybuilder defines form with increasingly heavy weights.
Confidence and competence
Engaging in such activity also helps overcome the fear of making mistakes. You will still make them of course, and I certainly do; but through repeated trips, gaffs and falls, their impact carries less of sting on the self-confidence. This is hopefully good news for those who are troubled or even paralysed by such things. My approach is just to stumble clumsily through anyway, regardless of whether it’s practice or ‘real’. Your’s may be to seize up, but that won’t help you.
Unless you are attending a regimented language course then it is extremely likely that you will be presented with a plethora of viable learning options accompanied by a multitude of satisfied customers evangelising on the efficacy of “their” chosen method. That’s fine of course, at least they are trying to help, and who knows? Their schooling of choice my indeed be “the one” for you, also. If not then it still could be part of your personal, customised solution.
This is part of the larger point: that the self-motivated student ultimately assembles his own course from the elements that work for him. It is worth consulting others who know, however -especially native speakers – otherwise there can be a tendency to select the ‘interesting’ parts of the language and skimp on essential basics. For instance, I chose to learn a string of words that appealed, but I should have gravitated towards a list of the most commonly used words first. It’s obvious in hindsight of course.
Running through the recommendations that I have have experienced to date, you may consider:-
Online pre-recorded lessons/courses: in various formats Many can be found on various podcasts and dedicated sites both for free and for sale.
Purchased CD/DVD/audio-book courses: by specialist language companies.
Specialist software on a desktop, tablet or smartphone: The smartphone app format appeals to me particularly, as it allows convenient study during a few free minutes or more anywhere. Apps/programs also incorporate other traditional methods such as Flash Cards,- which I haven’t used physically, only digitally.
Paid lessons with a dedicated tutor: The traditional classroom format still exists, with dedicated language schools in towns and cities across the country. This option naturally encompasses colleges and universities, with the larger venues generally offering the widest and most colourful range of subjects. Various institutions also offer online classes by paid subscription. However, in recent years, one-to one practice via Skype has also become an option, offered by enterprising independent providers. This is naturally the most unregulated ‘class’ format, so some careful selection is required before parting with your cash.
Phrase books: The classic go-to for studying a language but still useful to -varying degrees. At their simplest they teach you by simple repetition, and without much understanding of word/phrase construction or grammar; you just repeat the magic words in parrot fashion, -and away you go. Better examples also include some explanation of “how?” and “why?”, plus other tips specific to the language in question. They may even offer useful advice on the country and culture itself as an added bonus.
Technical/Exercise books: These are a worthy addition to your toolkit and concentrate on forming an understanding of the new language at its root, mechanical level. Don’t expect a plethora of handy holiday phrases, -though there will be many practical examples. Often, Russian words amount to miniature phrases in their own right, with ‘root’ words modified and then supplemented with prefixes/suffixes to convey meaning. A good technical volume will familiarise you with the workings of this particular ‘code’.
Graded Reading: This is an excellent mode of practice for those with a modicum of Russian reading ability, and not for those fresh ‘out of the gate’ so to speak. The idea is that a student selects a book or text that is largely suitable for his level of reading ability, whilst still containing words that he is unfamiliar with. With this combination, the reader may ascertain the meaning of the unfamiliar words by context and by their relationship to the rest of the text. Thereby a stronger mental bond is forged.
Online/offline language partners: Essentially, someone with whom you can swap ‘practice’; say 30 minutes of English for 30 of Russian. A form of barter, technically I suppose and great for making new friends and contacts in another country. It encourages self motivation and organisation, whilst providing mutually ‘expert’ native speakers for (essentially) free. It may take some trial and error to find the perfect match and you do have to simultaneously be careful about ‘talking to strangers’. Respectable sites will offer rules and guidelines in this regard of course.
Oh, and: keep at it, with at least a little practice everyday (Some of the simplest advice is also the best).